Pregnancy euphemisms, in Babble’s Jabberwocky columnMark Peters
If a Euphemism Hall of Fame existed, it would easy to stock with preposterous evasions. After obvious candidates such as “extraordinary rendition” and “differently challenged” were inducted, I’d nominate some lesser-known nuggets of nonsense, like “Maximum Absorbency Garment” (MAG), a NASA-approved term that reared its poopy head in some stories about the would-be-kidnapper/astronaut-in-diapers scandal. I’m also a fan of “holistic practitioner,” which became a euphemism for “hooker” in Toronto a few years ago because of loopholes in the licensing of “holistic health centers” – many of which were just brothels. Then there’s the medical world’s “symmetry failure,” also called wrong-site surgery. The English translation is, “Doh! I just operated on the wrong side.”
But a whole wing of the Euphemism Hall of Fame could be devoted to pregnancy, a long-taboo subject that has generated enough weasel words and membrane-melting malarkey to keep a squadron of George Carlins busy for years.
“Baby bump” is the term of the moment, arising like a perky, anorexic sea monster from the oozy tabloid world of Bennifers, Brangelinas and baby daddies. Truth be told, “bump” is not a euphemism at all in the strictest sense: it’s a dysphemism, the honest-to-a-fault evil twin of the euphemism. Where euphemisms hide, dysphemisms expose: a good example is “brain bucket,” a pretty vivid term for a motorcycle helmet. Other dysphemisms are “muffin top” (flesh erupting over the sides of low-rider jeans) and “Jesus juice” (wine). “Baby bump” fits into that garish crowd very well, along with the ever-popular variations of pregnancy: “preggers,” “preggo” and “preggy” are well-established, while Googling terms up plenty of rarer coinages such as “preggish,” “pre-preggish,” “pregness,” “pregtastic,” “pregtacular,” “pregalicious,” “pregitude,” “preggery,” “preggage,” “non-preggage,” “pregosity,” “pregnosity,” “pregnasty,” “pregnacious” and “pregcellent.”
Though I’m a fan of “pregcellent” – finally, I have a rhyme for “eggcellent” in that Ode to Omelettes I’ve been working on – these words are about as clever as a box of rocks. For greater creativity and truly diabolical doublespeak, we have to look elsewhere: to some archaic, obscure, or non-American terms that are all likely to freshen up your vocabulary the next time you or yours are bagged, bellied, bound, caught, clicked, enwombed, full, heavy, knit, storked or teeming. More on all these terms can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, the Bible of the English language, only with fewer immaculate conceptions and seven-headed beasts.
An ankle full of pain and a belly full of baby: there’s a little logic and a lot of deception behind this association. The OED provides only two examples of this meaning from 1785 and 1940, and the term means getting seduced/losing the V-card as well. This seems to have the same uninformative intent as “I have to see a man about a horse,” an old chestnut that conceals visits to bars, bathrooms and other unspeakable destinations.
an interesting condition
Pregnancy has been not-so-descriptively described as a “delicate condition,” “certain condition,” “particular condition” and “interesting condition.” “Interesting” can mean pregnant in a few different ways: birth has been called an “interesting event” and someone pregnant is “beginning to be interesting.” So if you want to make your life more interesting . . . now your path is clear.
Pods aren’t just for pod people. “In pod” has the same meaning and form as “with child,” and it’s been out there since 1890. This works metaphorically too, as a 1935 writer If you want to make your life more interesting . . . now your path is clear.could say, “I am in pod again and am pupping a novel.”
up the duff
Plenty of preg-tastic idioms take the form of the familiar “up the creek”-“up the duff” and “up the pole” have meant pregnant in Australian and Irish English since 1941 and 1922 respectively. “Up the stick” and “up the spout” mean the same thing, and this 1961 citation gives a good sense of the slangy flavor of this fertile family of expressions: “A lot of crooked Popes . . . putting duchesses and nuns up the pole, and having Italy littered with their bastards.”
in the pudding club
I first heard this British expression in Harold Pinter’s absurdist play “The Birthday Party”:
Goldberg: How did you kill her?
McCann: You throttled her.
Goldberg: With arsenic.
McCann: There’s your man!
Goldberg: Where’s your old mum?
Stanley: In the sanatorium.
Goldberg: Why did you never get married?
McCann: She was waiting at the porch.
Goldberg: You skedaddled from the wedding.
McCann: He left her in the lurch.
Goldberg: You left her in the pudding club.
McCann: She was waiting at the church.
At first, I thought the pudding club might be as meaningless and non-sequitor-y as throttling someone with arsenic, but I was pleased to learn the pudding club was the preggo club and has been since 1936. (“In the club” has the same meaning). If pregnancy and pudding seem like odd dance partners to you, there’s a less-popular variation of “bun in the oven” that might be the missing link: “pudding in the oven.”
Since 1722, “fell” – sometimes lengthened to “fell with child” – has carried Biblical implications that are about as subtle as a two by four to the melon. The OED quotes a 1957 citation, “We had been married eight months before I fell,” Since 1722, “fell” has carried Biblical implications that are about as subtle as a two by four to the melon.to which I have two reactions: 1) Ouch. 2) How Lucifer-like can you get? From the connotation, denotation, and stench of some of these terms, I almost get the sense that not everyone in the English-speaking world has always had an enlightened attitude towards women, sex and pregnancy.
And here’s a non-euphemism that may prove helpful to any pregnant woman in a bind: clergy of belly. To explain this obscurity requires explaining another: the expression “benefit of the clergy” meant that holy folks were given the benefit of the doubt – and a free pass in secular courts – for God-related reasons. This expression was well-established from about 1300-1800 and common enough to spawn this most pregcellent variation: A pregnant woman in trouble could claim the “clergy of her belly” as a general get-out-of-jail-free card.
That must have been a nice option when life got interesting.